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Acceptance of election as general secretary

Remarks by the Rev. Samuel Kobia following his election as WCC general secretary

28 August 2003

28 August 2003

Your Holiness, Moderator of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, officers of the Council, honorable members of the Central Committee, guests, my fellow colleagues and all other colleagues in the Ecumenical Centre:
I want to say that for me, this is a very humbling affair. I am deeply humbled by this great honour of being elected the general secretary of the World Council of Churches. My wife, Ruth, and our daughter Nkatha, who is also here, and the rest of the family want to join me in thanking you, Moderator, and the Central Committee, for showing confidence that you believe I will be able to serve the Council as the next general secretary.

Trond Bakkevig and I are friends. We have been friends for a long time. He served in the Commission of Justice Peace and Creation when I was director of that Unit III. Trond and I have spent a lot of time together, even in Norway. His commitment to the ecumenical movement, as you, Your Holiness, have said in your remarks, is there for everyone to see. We have said since our time together in Tirana when we went for the interviews, that whatever happens at the end of this process should in no way come between us, and this is how I would like it to be.

I come from a culture where this is considered not as a victory of the individual. It is our victory, belonging to all of us together, because I believe it is God's will that I be asked to assume this responsibility within my calling in ecumenical ministry. It is in that spirit that I accept this appointment because, together, we can not fail.

Our diversity is our strength. That is why we must safeguard the multilateral space that WCC provides for churches around the world. This is a unique multilateral space that brings people from churches of different traditions and histories together in a way that no other organization in the world can. It is therefore with profound thanksgiving to God and to this movement of the churches that I will serve with dedication and with all my strength, and with God helping me.

The Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC provides us with a model that turns a problem into a possibility. We have already begun to taste the first fruits of this process. Already we know that it has been accepted that decision by consensus is going to be written in our books, and that it will become common practice here at ecumenical meetings in the future. Moderator, I am very well aware that this Central Committee has made the decision to accept the recommendations that have been made by the Special Commission. I want to assure you and the whole of this august body that we will faithfully implement all the recommendations of the Special Commission.

Today, we live in a world we recognize as a broken world; a world searching for meaning in life and for security, yet a world in which many lead meaningless and insecure lives. The answer is neither in politics nor in economics. Nor is the answer to be found in military might. The problem humankind is facing today is deeply spiritual and moral. This therefore is a huge challenge to the WCC. We will work tirelessly towards the healing of the world, and the restoration of the human dignity of all the people of God.

The challenge the world is facing today is how to relate to one another as human beings and not merely as consumers and sellers, or as powerful and powerless. The historical injustices of preceding centuries have come back to haunt us in the twenty-first century. Unless and until these underlying historical injustices are resolved, it will be difficult for everyone to feel safe in this world. As a council of churches, we commit ourselves to advocate for non-violent ways of attaining justice, peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.

For the WCC to gain the capacity to inspire the world, we need inner strength. Our strength lies also in our unity. As we reiterate that WCC is first and foremost a fellowship of churches whose primary purpose is to call one another to visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship, and "to advance to that unity so that the world may believe", we must work together and be seen to be working together. The Common Understanding and Vision (CUV) document provided a framework within which the members of the WCC are enabled to reaffirm their ecumenical vocation.

Moderator, I wish to pay tribute to the outgoing general secretary, my colleague and dear friend, Dr Konrad Raiser. Konrad has provided strong and insightful leadership during very difficult times, especially in a period when we have been facing financial problems. But, thanks to his resolve and determination, he leaves the Council at a time when we begin to see signs of economic recovery for the Council. I want to assure you, Konrad, that I have taken keen note of what you said in your report to the Central Committee - that the ecumenical calling has become an integral part of your ministry, and that your commitment shall not end when you leave your present task.

Friends, you all know that, in the last seven years, the Council's income has steadily declined - dropping from CHF 82.4 million in 1996 to CHF 44.1 million in 2002. As I have already said in 2003, the report of the Finance Committee of this Central Committee has shown that our income is being held. We will spare no efforts to ensure that this trend continues to maturity. The Council's dire financial situation, as the general secretary and colleagues will agree with me, became a source of great anxiety and emotional stress for all of us. I am one of the members of staff. I have gone through the pain of what it means to work under such financial constraints. I think it will be our major responsibility to try to see this come to an end. We can do this if we join hands. And it is my vision that we will try and have financial security for the coming years. What I plan to do, in the short term during the period leading to the general assembly (2006), is to deepen our engagement with specialized ministries who contribute up to 80% of our programmatic work. We cannot go through the kind of stress that we have gone through in the next two to three years when we are preparing for the assembly, and be able to go through the assembly, unless we have stability of income. This is my hope, and I will appeal to our specialized ministries to help us with that.

For the longer term, I would want to call on this Central Committee to appoint a small party to work with the general secretary to begin to put together ideas that will help us to generate funds to endow the most essential core work of the WCC. This is a tall order, but I believe that we have to do it, and we will, God willing.

As general secretary, I shall consider myself to be the captain of the team. Every member of the team is valuable, because we can succeed only with the participation of all. The welfare of staff will be a high priority for me. The work of the general secretary is not just programme and financial management. Even more critically, it is spiritual leadership. We must seek ways of deepening the spiritual life even in the Ecumenical Centre community. And because this is not going to be easy, we would want to call on the Central Committee to accompany us in this effort to deepen our spirituality in our lives here in this community.

As general secretary, I particularly want to believe, and to call on this Central Committee not just to appoint me and leave me alone. I want you to accompany me. It is very easy to leave leaders alone. I know this because I have been at the helm before - as general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya. I know that the higher you go, the colder it gets. Very often, people come to you as general secretary and expect you to support them in every way, including emotionally and spiritually. But where does the general secretary go? Therefore, I propose that we find a mechanism, a way to be in contact with each and every one of you, starting with you, Moderator, and the officers, so that we shall walk together. Because this is a journey that we must walk together.

I believe that the twenty-first century will be a century where spirituality will take centre stage in our lives. Spiritual accompaniment, therefore, should be what social solidarity was in the twentieth century. My intention is to find ways of deepening and broadening spiritual accompaniment among the WCC member churches as well as others. It could be as simple as churches in the Pacific or anywhere else going down on their knees to pray and to give prayerful support for other churches in the US or Europe, or other places when they find themselves in need of that. And we will endeavour to send "living letters", who can be there so that it will be people to people - heart to heart, and not just institution to institution.

Moderator, I wish to conclude these acceptance remarks with an African saying: "If you want to walk fast, walk alone. But if you want to go far, walk together with others." My prayer is that in this ecumenical movement, we shall go very far, walking together, strengthening each other to fulfill that prayer of our Lord - that all may be one - to the glory of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.